[Left to right] Dr. Morris Schwarzblat y Katz, Director General of Science and Technological Development, State of Jalisco, Dr. Georgina Garcia, President, Jalisco Medical Cluster, Zain Ismail, Hacking Health/ Henry Ford Health System (Detroit, USA), Kathy Malas, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sainte -Justine (Montreal, Canada)/ Hacking Health.

Last week we had the pleasure of speaking at the inaugural Jalisco Health Tech Forum organized by Hacking Health Guadalajara and the Jalisco Medical Cluster in Guadalajara, Mexico. The event sponsors were  Intel and Cisco. 

Approximately 120 participants including doctors, private and public hospital leadership, academics, industry, state officials, entrepreneurs, students, and the US and Canadian consulate gathered in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Andares for this inaugural event. The event focused on rallying healthcare innovation stakeholders and encouraging collaboration in the Mexican State of Jalisco; this is one of the core objectives of Hacking Health Guadalajara— “foster collaboration and innovation by engaging key groups of stakeholders to create solutions to healthcare challenges.” 

We delivered a 2.5-hour interactive workshop on the topic of “Global perspectives in healthcare innovation from the lense of a provider-based organization.” We based the majority of our content on our shared experiences leading innovation in the Canadian Provinces of Quebec and Ontario, as well as the American State of Michigan.

Even though the event was technology focused, we chose to speak more broadly about innovation in health systems and how it can be achieved based on some of the experiences and insights we’ve gleaned over the years. Additionally, we talked through some scholarly articles on the subject.

According to the literature, the following elements are most important to drive innovation within an organization;

First, innovation must be endorsed, championed and modeled at the executive level of an organization (Keown et al., 2014; Williams, 2011). The principles of innovation then need to be cascaded down through the organizational structure. Identifying “innovation champions” across business units and functional areas is also a best practice. 

Second—“What’s gonna work? TEAMWORK!”. The research demonstrates that organizations who adopt “extreme teaming”—building effective cross-functional and cross-industry teams— win every time (Edmondson & Harvey, 2017; Williams, 2011). 

Third, we have always believed that innovation [in healthcare] occurs best as close to the patient as possible. Therefore implementing organizational structures that allow ideas to surface from the front line (bottom-up approach) will be a key driver in your organization’s innovation journey (Keown et al., 2014; Williams, 2011). Note, the person who comes up with the idea isn’t always the best person to lead an idea through development and implementation. High performing organizations recognize this and unlock the ideator from the innovators and intrapreneurs.

Lastly,  building on the bottom-up approach, it is also important to include patients in your innovation processes. Invite them into the mix as co-designers. The best people to make recommendations on how to improve care are the end users themselves. In publicly funded systems, where healthcare is viewed as a public good, it is also essential to loop in the broader community. This will become increasingly important as social innovation and placemaking become more popular concepts in the industry.

We also drove the point home that implementing a new technology alone is not necessarily innovative, or even helpful for that matter; it must have some sort of value to the patient and other healthcare stakeholders. Therefore, innovation and value must go “hand-in-hand.”

Lastly, we shared the notion that patients (and their families) are health consumers, and their interests are putting pressure on the health system around the world to perform in ways they are not accustomed to. We also spoke at length about the threat of new entrants coming into the healthcare “market” primarily large retail and digitally enabled companies, and what the implications are for us as ‘legacy’ healthcare providers (Strategy&, 2014).

Our proposed strategy to assist national health systems to pivot to meet the demands of health consumers, and mitigate the risk of being displaced is to create ‘consumer-facing retail-oriented experiences that are enabled by technology.’

But this forum was not just about us and what we had to share. We spent a significant amount of time during the day asking questions and trying to better understand the nature and state of the Mexican health system as well as the maturity of the healthcare innovation community in the area. 

Listed below are some of the unique themes that surfaced during the various discussions held over the course of the day;

1. The Mexican health system has a high degree of fragmentation, more than most countries. 

One of the most interesting points raised was the notion that Mexico, may be one of the only countries in the world to have four distinct health systems.

Mexico has a federal health system for public employees, a federal system for privately employed citizens, a federal system for citizens without formal employment, and finally, the majority of states have their systems as well as some significant employers like Pemex (Wikipedia, 2017).

The consensus in the room was that given these complexities, navigating the Mexican health system from the patient’s perspective is extremely difficult.

As the State of Jalisco continues its health care innovation journey, the first challenged for stakeholders will find ways to collaborate across systems, and despite competing interests, until legislators enact policy to streamline operating models, increase access and incentivize collaboration and innovation.

2. A more holistic view of innovation is needed.

One surprising comment that surfaced during our discussion was the need to take a more holistic approach to health and innovation, which would include looking for ways to apply innovation and design principle to wellness and health in general. Also, some participants in the room shared that we need to take into account the broader context of what is happening in our world and ensure that the planet is healthy.

“What good is it to have a high performing health system in an environment and community that is toxic and dying?”  

The broader goal would be to provide value to the community and the environment on top of the traditional stakeholders—  patients, providers, and payors.

It was also raised during this discussion that there is a need to be more inclusive when we think about innovation and include artists, designers, farmers and members of adjacent industries into the equation as opposed to merely driving innovation with technology and medical professionals.

3. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Mexican innovators; young and old. 

Probably the most outstanding vibe we received from the conference was that the entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well in the State of Jalisco. Perhaps not well known in Canada or the United States, but Guadalajara is known as the “Silicon Valley’ of Mexico because of its high concentration of technology firms, startups, entrepreneurial services and investment in this area. Passion and energy reinforce this ‘title.’ The energy in the room was palpable;  along with a unanimous agreement that despite systematic challenges something is, can, and will be done to drive innovation in the local health systems.

It was also refreshing to see young people and more ‘experienced’ people equally passionate and engaged in conversation throughout the day. The students present were itching to find opportunities to partner with healthcare experts to apply their ‘tech savviness’ and youthful thinking to real-world healthcare use cases.

This statement raised at the forum sums it up perfectly;

“Innovation has no age, gender or education level.”

Z + K


Edmondson, A. C., & Harvey, J. F. (2017). Extreme Teaming. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited.

Keown, O. P., Parston, G., Patel, H., Rennie, F., Saoud, F., Al Kuwari, H., & Darzi, A. (2014). Lessons from eight countries on diffusing innovation in health care. Health Aff (Millwood), 33(9), 1516-1522. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2014.0382

Strategy&. (2014). The birth of the healthcare consumer Growing demands for choice, engagement, and experience. PricewaterhouseCoopers . Retrieved from https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/media/file/The-birth-of-the-healthcare-consumer.pdf

Wikipedia. (2017, October 31). Healthcare in Mexico. Retrieved November 2, 2017, from Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healthcare_in_Mexico

Williams, I. (2011). Organizational readiness for innovation in health care: some lessons from the recent literature. Health Services Management Research, 24(4), 213-218. doi:10.1258/hsmr.2011.011014


Zain Ismail’s views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations he is affiliated with. Follow Zain on Twitter– #IsmailNation #CrossBorderLove #YQG. Connect with Zain on LinkedIn.

Kathy Malas’s views are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations she is affiliated with. Follow Kathy on Twitter. Connect with Kathy on LinkedIn.